Broadly defined as the use of language that has a persuasive or impressive effect, rhetoric was at the heart of social and political life in ancient Greece and Rome.
Dating back to the 4th century BC, it was an esteemed practice among Greek speakers who would adopt this art of communication to influence their hearers towards a certain course of action.
While rhetoric is often regarded as speech that lacks sincerity, it is essentially the skill of a speaker to use reasoned argument to persuade. The question is, as Tom Esam addresses in his first solo exhibition at Roman Road: have politicians lost the art of rhetoric?
Esam has dedicated his contemporary practice to exploring the ways in which slogans and imagologies are used in advertisements, charity promotions and political campaigns. Often using his surname and image in his artworks, he highlights the ways in which such propagandist tools can be used to create covert systems of ideals and anti-ideals that aim to influence our behaviours and opinions.
The works in the artist’s new series present images of people holding up signs on which he has Photoshopped his own statements. Inspired by assertions made in protests and by political parties, Esam attempts to expose the sort of appealing, simple phrases employed to incite onlookers to jump on the bandwagon of a particular point of view.
Phrases such as ‘Let’s Stay On The Road To A Stronger Esam’ and ‘Trust Esam, He Will Steer You To Safety’ arrest our gaze: a parade of nonsensical hyperbole for his beguiled audience.
Through a barrage of Esam’s sloganised statements, the exhibition aims to “elaborate the debate about political rhetoric and at once raises the question of whether Aristotelian persuasion is a more effective tool to engage the public, rather than just making assertions or promises,” the gallery said in a statement.
Tom Esam, born 1986, lives and works in Berlin, Germany. Since completing his BA in Fine Art at Kingston University with a First-class honours degree, he has exhibited widely in solo and group shows around Europe and the United States.
In early 2016, Esam participated in the Waaw residency in St. Louis, Senegal, which inspired him to create his new ESAid (2016) – an ongoing series of thought-provoking works that expand on his current interest in political and charity discourse.
Complex Problems, Simple Solutions is on show from Wednesday 24 August – Friday 23 September 2016